Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures


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The Streets of London: Up on the roof.

At street level London is a jumble of traffic, people and bustle. It can be hard to see how it all connects and where space merges from one locality into another. To really appreciate the shape of London the only way is up.

looking up 20 Fenchurch StreetOnce upon a time, the tallest building near London Bridge was the Guys Hospital Tower. Now it stands dwarfed by the ever competing designs which parade across our skyline. Whilst the Shard retains its title for tallest building in the capital by quite a margin, another competitor is 20 Fenchurch Street. This building was designed in 2004 by Rafael Viñoly, a Uruguayan architect. The design flips a building on its head, by creating a larger space at the top than the footprint at ground level. With an oasis of greenery on the 35th floor there’s definitely something worth visiting.

It wasn’t the best day to go, but I’d planned my visit as part of my birthday “day off” and the free tickets are not issued until a week in advance so I couldn’t be picky. The website warns to dress up warmly so I was well prepared for the icy blast as I stepped out onto the viewing deck 35 floors above the Thames. There is a protective glass screen but on a grey November day I was glad of my thermal vest! Despite the weather, the views are still as fantastic as you would imagine. Below London is revealed, the shapes, colours and patterns that make up this amazing city.

 

The garden is arranged on several stepped levels which afford a 360 degree view of the city. An old favourite, “The Gherkin” at 30 St Mary Axe, was also revealed again – its familiar conical shape lost these days amidst a panoply of other, taller buildings and cranes. The free ticket gives you an hour, yet I didn’t see anyone pushing the 10.45am entrants out! With a glass of birthday fizz  in hand I had time to simply stop and stare.

 

Looking up and looking down, the views from the Sky Garden are worth the visit. Get in fast and book your space!

Sky Garden information is available here

©Chez l’abeille  2017

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The House of Dreams.

Step through this gateway and you will find yourself in The House of Dreams.

Front garden (9)I could try to describe the house and tell you all about Stephen Wright, the artist who has created and shaped this amazing work, but I’m not going to. Instead, as a tiny snapshot of this world apart, I’m going to show you some of the photographs Stephen very generously let me take before the most recent open day got underway.

Then I’m going to invite you to make a cup of tea, take some time out and let Stephen explain his work to you personally. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did. So go on – open the gate and step into the courtyard…

Now go through the front door and into the hallway. Memories surround you: Personal thoughts and immense feelings laid bare.

Peep through the archway – colours and textures draw you inwards. Assembled words and objects create something new from the lost and dispossessed detritus of the world.

The studio floor and walls bridge the space towards the back garden.

In the world of Forensic Science it is often said that “every contact leaves a trace”. The cherished fragments of lives lived and lives living infuse each space and become the very DNA of the house. Challenging, comforting, personal, intimate, human.

This is the House of Dreams.

Many thanks to Stephen and Michael for letting me get in the way while their final preparations for the open day were underway.

You can visit the House of Dreams in East Dulwich on the last Saturday in September or October – Tickets can be purchased via Stephen’s website here.

©Chez l’abeille  2017


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The Streets of London: Frieze Sculpture 2017

Anyone who has read my last post and got as far as The Royal Docks may recall me telling you that there was now only the one sculpture there, where there were previously several. It was a surprise to find one of the missing pieces this week, amongst the 25 works that make up the 2017 Frieze sculpture trail in London’s Regent’s Park. Somehow this event had failed to register on my “what’s currently happening” radar, but thanks to some more in-the-know friends and with a sunny staycation day in hand, I was able to cross from south to north to have a look.

‘From the playful to the political, these 25 works explore contemporary sculpture’s material and technical dexterity, together with its social role and reflection on the human condition and our environment’. (Clare Lilley – Yorkshire Sculpture Park Director of Programme and Frieze Sculpture curator)

See what YOU think!

I was most excited by Alicja Kwade’s piece, Big Be-Hide (2017) – unfortunately it would appear that something (or someONE) has managed to crack the mirror and it had been health and safety – ed to the max. I managed to take some reasonable pictures, but to see it in its full glory you need to head to https://frieze.com/article/frieze-sculpture-2017-0

 

Frieze Sculpture is free and is open from 5 July to 8 October in the English Gardens, The Regent’s Park, London.

 

©Chez l’abeille  2017


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The Streets of London: The Line.

Starting the walk southwardsI’m not going to write too much about this walk as it really belongs to Kate, who has cleverly set her friends the year-long challenge of challenging her. Celebrations for significant birthdays occur in different ways and Kate has come up with a genius plan: creating memories through shared experiences. Not being one for the adrenalin fuelled event, my challenge came with art loving and tracking skills required; completing “The Line” ; a sculpture walk between Stratford and the Greenwich Peninsular.

We had chosen August in anticipation of fine summer weather. Heading out with thunderstorms of biblical proportions forecast wasn’t actually part of the plan but somehow we managed to miss the downpours and successfully navigated our way along the back waters of Bow. Here are the highlights.

The River Lea and Cody Dock

It took a little while to get going as signage along the way wasn’t always the easiest thing to decipher – but we followed our noses southwards and headed into unknown territory.

The rains came down just as we had arrived at Cody Dock – a rather fascinating and curiously empty creative quarter which has been developed post London 2012. As if by magic the man operating the cafe appeared so tea and cake kept us occupied until the rains stopped and we navigated our way southwards via the DLR to the Royal Docks.

The Royal Docks

On a previous visit I had seen several artworks around the dock but there is currently only the one so after a quick photo stop we were up, up and away across the Thames via the cable-car!

 

The Greenwich Peninsular

This is a great section of the walk, which curls around the back of the tent-like O2. The artworks here fit into the environment so well that it could be easy to overlook some of them, especially my favourite,”Here”.

Still dry and now thirsty #ChallengeKate was completed! We headed to the nearest bar and congratulated ourselves with a cocktail in the sunshine.

Happy 50th Kate!!!

©Chez l’abeille  2017

 

 


The Streets of London: Pullens Yards

It started with a tweet by a publisher I follow. A mention of Pullens Yards, an open studios and a postcode intrigued me; I like to think I know many of the studios around my area but this was new to me. I had a few hours to spare before an afternoon of volunteering at a local theatre and as I had to pass through SE17 on the way I thought, “why not?”

I already knew that behind the Walworth Road in SE London there are many Victorian streets, full of original housing stock, but discovering some beautiful Victorian artisan workshops was a complete surprise.

Pullens Centre Sign

Pullens Centre Sign

The yards sit within the Pullens Estate. This was built between 1870 and 1901 by local builders, James Pullen and Son. Included in the estate design were four yards, of which three remain, Iliffe Yard, Clements Yard and Peacock Yard. The Yards were purpose-built workspaces, designed originally as a work/live spaces, something that is still seen today in several locations around Southwark.

It was a great day to visit – the sun was out and London was basking in a kind of post-election lethargy. As it was quite quiet when I arrived many of the artists were happy to chat. I spent some time in the studio of David Cowley, who seeks to capture his responses to music and literature in his paintings. His work was fascinating and I could have spent all morning chatting with him about art and synaesthesia, but there were three yards to get round so I had to move on.

The yards are a celebration of everything you know about Victorian building. From the wrought iron gates and the cobbled roadway, to the worn out staircases and arched doorways they are the epitome of the attention to detail that the builder brought to a project. Today they continue to house a wide range of artists, from Royal Academicians to lute makers, photographers, jewellers, potters…the list is endless.

I was keen to visit Tiny Owl Publishers who are based in Peacock Yard. This publishing house focuses on books which aim to bridge cultural experiences, creating the most beautiful books about love, friendship or freedoms. I had a lovely conversation with co-founder Karim, who took time to show me their latest publications and the themes they focus on. If you are a fan of picture books that really say something then have a look at their titles. You won’t be disappointed.

Back in the 1970s the workshops and surrounding flats were heading for demolition. Thanks to the far-sighted campaigners who saved them in the face of bailiffs and police, the area was saved and is now a sought after place to live. As we see the shape of the Walworth Road and the Elephant and Castle changing on an almost daily basis, I hope these small-scale spaces remain as a creative hub, continuing to bring a little beauty to our lives.

Peacock Yard

Peacock Yard

The Yards host an Open Studios event twice a year in the Summer and at Christmas. Details can be found via their website http://www.pullensyards.co.uk/

©Chez l’abeille  2017


A brand new look…

“It is easily overlooked that what is now called vintage was once brand new.”

                                                                                 Tony Visconti
The cover of January’s “Which” magazine was asking a rather big question recently: “Which brands stand the test of time?”
I guess we only have to open the kitchen cupboards to answer this. A quick survey of my kitchen reveals Birds custard, Tabasco Sauce and Bournville cocoa powder, all longstanding familiar brands from childhood to today. However the best place for a stroll through your own sensational history is definitely the Museum of Brands.
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Museum of Brands –  Ladbroke Grove

There’s something rather fabulous about stepping back into your own past. To walk through the “Time Tunnel”, where the museum’s extensive collection is displayed, is also a walk down the collective memory lane.
My main reason for going to the museum was to see the collection of jigsaw puzzles, but in fact I was totally absorbed by the retro packaging and designs. As I moved into the sixties and onwards, sensations were continuously triggered. Memories of sweet tastes or vile ones, good times or bad; the objects created a shared cultural experience that got visitors talking and swopping personal stories. I had a hilarious shared moment with some Australian visitors over the Sixties food packets and memorabilia on display.
The museum has two main parts – the Time Tunnel which walks you through design and branding by decades, from the 1800s to the present day and an exhibition of designs which traces the evolution of very well-known packaging.

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Testing, testing…

Once more I have embarked on the endless project known as “Fixing Chez L’Abeille”. I’ve not had the energy to do anything since the last epic dust storm but the time has come to bite the bullet once again. However, what I thought would be a few days upheaval whilst some simple adjustments to decor and plug location were completed, has turned into a need to rewire my poor old house so everything has ground to an unplanned halt. It’s a situation that is definitely testing me!

Thus, as the sun came out over London town for what seems the first time in months, I was desperate to get out and see something more stimulating than bare plaster walls and holes where uplights once lived.

I was headed for the newly opened Tate Modern extension but halfway there I was waylaid. In fact that really should be weigh-laid because the never visited Kirkaldy Testing Museum was open, so I looked in.

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Now if you’ve ever looked up in Southwark Street, you may have pondered over this inscription:

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The motto “Facts not opinions” gives you some sense that this was a place of science – and as soon as you step through the door you are whisked back to 1874, when David Kirkaldy set up the testing works at No.99.

As a result of the Industrial Revolution many new materials were developed, but their weaknesses were not always understood, resulting in major incidents such as the 1879 Tay Bridge Disaster. Setting himself up as an independent consultant, Kirkaldy designed and built his own testing machine to investigate and check the strength of many different materials used in building and industry.

The museum houses this enormous machine along with many other examples of testing equipment. I wasn’t in time to see it in action but I can only guess how impressive this is, given the size; the bolts alone are the size of my hand!

I did get to see the Charpy machine working – this tests the brittleness of materials and determines the energy needed to break them. This test was invaluable during the Second World War when the hulls of many Liberty Ships  cracked under the extreme conditions in the North Atlantic.

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The Charpy Machine

Visiting this museum I was struck by the sheer brilliance that a combination of human ingenuity, determination, passion and scientific application can achieve. The tests developed in the 19th century out of the Industrial Revolution are still pretty much the tests used today, albeit with probably more health and safety legislation attached to them. So despite the things I need to fix, those Victorians built me a home which is still standing over 100 years later.

As we move forwards into uncertain times and another form of revolution, I hope that some of those truly British characteristics will surface.

The Kirkaldy Testing Museum is open on the first Sunday of the month